The Phoenix Coyotes are on the chopping block. No really, they are. Yell at me and threaten me all you like, stick your head in the sand in denial, but it will happen eventually. The Coyotes are being matched or exceeded in attendance by their ECHL affiliate the Gwinnett Gladiators (who pulled 10,082 at a home game on February 4th). The only reason they’re still in Glendale is that the city counsel has forked over a total of $50 million in taxpayers’ money over the past two years to keep the team there. No one local wants to buy them because they’re a poor business venture. These facts may sound like insults to some of you, but it’s time for some real talk about relocation.
I am/was an Atlanta Thrashers fan so I have a pretty good idea of how this rolls. I could sit here and tell you it should’ve been the Coyotes going back to Winnipeg, but I could also give you a million reasons why the Thrashers deserved relocation too. Instead, I’ll just offer up some friendly advice: been there, dealt with that, the world doesn’t end when it’s over. Trust me. It doesn’t. Not for fans, anyway.
For a passionate fan it’s definitely not a fun time, because you actually care about that mismanaged, falling-apart mess of a team. Your social life is centered around going to games. The media’s getting everything wrong and it feels like all of Canada is breathing down your neck. Suddenly you want to spout off hateful things about maple syrup and lumberjacks.
There are more mystery “potential buyers” than you can shake a stick at and some local sports hero just came forward saying he’s “interested in finding buyers” but doesn’t want to help buy the team himself. You get your hopes up every time a little tidbit comes out, only to have those hopes dashed all over again. It’s like the worst high school break-up ever times a thousand, and the Canadian media came to gawk at you (how dare they).
Before you rage against the injustices of it all in a series of ill-timed tweets please, please get some perspective. What you as a fan have to lose in this business — because it is a business after all — is miniscule when put up against what organization employees and players will most definitely lose.
In Atlanta, I witnessed up close and personal the employees who found themselves out of a job because the new ownership didn’t want them or moving to Winnipeg was out of the question. There were also the players who had built lives here with their families, and were faced with either uprooting their familes or maintaining long distance marriages. By comparison, I was losing very little as a fan.
Another thing to remember is that team relocations happen for a reason. In Atlanta’s case it was absentee owners and poor management among a myriad of other reasons I won’t bore you with here. Fans stopped showing up until eventually it was just the crazy die hards and the transplants who turned out to see their respective home teams. Eventually the absentee owners got tired of losing money hand over fist, so they found a buyer and well, you know the rest. Relocation doesn’t just happen because Gary Bettman is evil, as much as we would like that to be the case.
Looking at the situation intelligently is a lot better than sticking your fingers in your ears and going lalalala. Okay, so I did the latter for a while last year, but eventually reality sinks in and frankly, you can be the bitter a-hole fan about it or you can use your hockey smarts to comment on the situation. One of these things will keep you loving the game past when relocation happens. Don’t be “that guy” ranting and whining about how you didn’t deserve to be “robbed” of your team. Enough of those guys get together and you have a roving gang of Nordiques fans protesting at every arena within driving distance. None of that, please.